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String after-length

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Recently I went to my luthier to complain about my cello not resonating properly. He suggested installing a shorter tailpiece so as to "tune" the after-length. I was surprised at what a profound difference this made, but it made me wonder why it took so long to discover, and what is the scientific basis underlying it.

Also, if this works for cello, why do we never see other string instruments set up like this? When I looked closely, the majority of the cellists in my orchestra have plastic-type tailpieces which provide a longish afterlength, but all the other string instruments just have the traditional wood tailpiece.

Thanks in advance for satisfying my curiosity.

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I only know violas, shortening the after string length reduces after ring, lengthening the opposite. At least that is what i sense. fred

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I would guess for a normal violin with most of the numbers right (stop lenght, f-holes etc..) a normal tailpiece will give more or less the wanted afterlength, with the "standard afterlength pitchs". But the string afterlength was discussed often on maestronet as one of the set up details to look at.

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Wooden tailpieces also come in various lengths to accommodate diffent afterlengths. It's just that sometimes it takes a bit more effort, information and expense to find them. The appropriate afterlength has as much to do with the length of the lower bout of an instrument as it does the string length. This is what causes the variation in the correct length of the tailpiece proper. String adjusters that reach out in front of the tailpiece confuse the issue even further.

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I don't know much from experience about the 1:6 ratio, other than the theory that the resonance of the afterlength will have some interference with the high frequencies.

There are other tailpiece vibration modes, most of which are either very high or very low (below playing range), and not a big deal. The exeption is the lower end of the tailpiece, controlled by the length of the tailgut.

For violas and cellos, the tailpiece vibrations will fall into the playing range, making for a much more "interesting" adjustment process.

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Also, if this works for cello, why do we never see other string instruments set up like this? When I looked closely, the majority of the cellists in my orchestra have plastic-type tailpieces which provide a longish afterlength, but all the other string instruments just have the traditional wood tailpiece.

Thanks in advance for satisfying my curiosity.

We do. For what it's worth, I can count the number of plastic and metal tailpieces I've installed on 'good celli on one hand... and I stock 3 different length tailpieces for violin.

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Manipulating the afterlength can be a useful setup aid. One should not imagine that tuning the afterlength of a violin G or cello C to exactly two-and-a-half octaves above the G or C (which will produce the 1:6 ratio) will in all instances be the optimal adjustment. I've experienced instances where tuning the G afterlength on particular violin slightly sharp eliminated a wolf on C. Similarly I've had several instances where tuning the afterlength of a cello C to e (instead of g) eliminated the wolf. Sometimes the bowed string response on violins is severely affected when the afterlength is too short. Sometimes it hardly matters what the afterlength is. Some violas seem to like an F instead of a G afterlength on C. Cellos often seem to like a longer afterlength: the e afterlength on C is something I try on every cello I set up.

Melvin has mentioned that he has tailpieces on hand with loops adjusted for different afterlengths when setting up cellos.

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Ive heard some people say getting the distance from the saddle to the tailpiece right is more important than the afterlength, certainly if you could do both, that would be ideal, but if getting the right afterlength involves a non standard saddle to tailpiece length, it may not work as well

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Over here the Akusticus plastic tailpiece is very popular, I noticed most of the cello section were using them at a recent concert.

The problem i have with afterlength is that it seems almost impossible to tune 4 strings and 4 afterlengths acurately to musical notes. Take a violin with a Witner tailpiece and use the adjusters to alter the afterlength and the pegs to tune, it's very difficult to get the afterlengths and the string tuned, and next time you tune it will be different due to friction over the bridge. I'm not saying it can't have an effect, I'm sure it does, but in practice I don't see how it can give consistent results.

Swapping tailpieces involves removing and replacing the bridge and possibly resetting the soundpost, both can alter the sound significantly, especially if they weren't optimally placed before. It makes a comparison difficult.

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I stock 3 different length tailpieces for violin.

Fascinating. Please elaborate on how you select the right length violin tailpiece and why. Is it that there is a desired effect that each size makes (e.g. Does a bright sounding violin benefit from certain size tailpiece?)? Or does the tailpiece length correlate to other ratios?

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Recently I went to my luthier to complain about my cello not resonating properly. He suggested installing a shorter tailpiece so as to "tune" the after-length. I was surprised at what a profound difference this made, but it made me wonder why it took so long to discover, and what is the scientific basis underlying it.

Also, if this works for cello, why do we never see other string instruments set up like this? When I looked closely, the majority of the cellists in my orchestra have plastic-type tailpieces which provide a longish afterlength, but all the other string instruments just have the traditional wood tailpiece.

Thanks in advance for satisfying my curiosity.

Afterlength is NOT the only factor in changing the sound of your cello. Tailpiece weight and stiffness are important factors. Size has already been mentioned. Tailpiece material matters big time. Depending upon which way you want to change your sound ebony vs rosewood vs plastic vs steel will produce huge changes. Here is some brief reading for your convenience:

http://www.aitchison...etailpieces.htm

While there are some general ideas in which way particular tailpiece would change your sound, the only sure way to know is to try it.

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Thank you very much for the responses. The sound is definitely more open, I'm just not sure I like it because it's so different from what I'm accustomed to.

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While this post is 7 years old I want to add my two cents. So I've installed the Tonal Tailpiece on my cello. It's a carbon fiber tailpiece invited by Kenneth Kuo, who happens to be a professional cellist himself. Now I'm not sure if this applies to regular tailpieces, but for the Tonal Tailpiece Kenneth says he likes to after length to be F#. (You pluck the C string below the bridge to listen for the F# note.) His reason is that on the Cello the D string is naturally the weakest string and because F# is the natural harmonic to the D string tuning the tailpiece to F# help to balance things out. Now again, I don't know if this applies to regular tailpiece, but it's something to think about. :rolleyes:

On a different note I absolutely love the Tonal Tailpiece and for me it's a HUGE game changer. The cello sounds way more open and the response is faster and I feel I can play fast passages more crisply. I'm such a big fan that I'm ordering another one for my backup cello I just purchased and will continue to buy them. Don't get me wrong they are expensive (around $1200), but any serious cellist really needs to put the cost issue aside and look at the big picture, especially if you have an expensive cello. Visit his website tonaltailpiece.com and you'll see that some very serious cellist are putting them on the most expensive and important instruments (including Strad.) 

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What works well on one cello may not work well at all on another, whether a specific afterlength, or the weight of a tailpiece.

And "belief" can have profound effects on perception of sound.

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F#5, 740hz,  is somewhat close to the fifth fundamental of the cello open D, 734hz.

Not sure how tuning the afterlength to a fundamental of the open string helps when you are fingering notes on that string, since the afterlength will NOT be a fundamental of most of those notes.

Changing the afterlength changes the effective stiffness of the vibrating bridge. It should not be a surprise that this can affect how the instrument sounds and responds to the bow.

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15 hours ago, twcellist said:

 because F# is the natural harmonic to the D string

 

15 hours ago, martin swan said:

Can you explain that?

 

14 hours ago, duane88 said:

Perhaps that was a nice way of calling it a wolf note?

I call it bull crap.

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Thanks for bringing up Professor White's paper. It helps to visualize what is happening and some general cause and effects...

The middle two strings of the cello can sound weaker compared to the outer two strings as players tend to notice differences in greater details at the sonic extremes. More basic tonal colors are noticed on the tones bowed for a longer duration time. Better playing reveals qualities in areas of the fingerboard or positions, string response or articulation.

At one point players discover cello literature that force passages up into the second octave of the g- string and often discover a loss in power and grit. As mentioned, audible wolfs pose problems up in this range. A change in set up or strings might help this upper range but one solution may alter the characteristic of another string or quality enough to trigger displeasure from the player. An addition of a simple 5 - 6 gram metal "wolf eliminator" may alter the overall sound enough to make the change unacceptable for some ( younger ) players. 

The minimally invasive "solution" has been a change in afterlength and tailpiece to make the higher regions of the middle strings more responsive, but a fraction of players return to a modified version of their initial set up. It is likely a change in musical literature or the preference of the "old" sound. When they do revert back to the old set up, though, the sound of the cello has mostly improved. And the player has improved.

I have my starting points for afterlengths but there are always necessary tweaks. Ratios ( on which string? ) can be a good starting point, but i do revert to pitches as it is easier to notate the progress. Ratios end up being more like tracings, where on an occasion it lines up. And the process takes time. If I am working with a player in realtime, the process can be awful if 1) they are impatient and 2) if they do not know what they want - if they want their instrument to sound better. The same person is likely to call back the next day, not in three days or a week having given the new set up a legitimate try, but because it sounds different at home. It helps to have done the original or prior set up, but carefully mapping out someone else's set up can take time. Also having the resources to try many combinations can be challenging. This is also a difficulty in optimizing fit - how many of what items do you keep at hand?

So kudos to twcellist for finding a solution that works. But maybe Maestro Burgess has a point where you might swap out the tailpiece to try on the 2nd cello before purchasing another new tailpiece. I love my titanium end pin, but it only increases the focus and projection for the better on only one of my instrument.  

 

 

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